T to pay $400 million for mandated safety system
Feds will provide bulk of money in low-interest loans
MBTA OFFICIALS SAY a mandatory $460 million system to ensure rail safety is on track to be installed by 2020 but though they claim it’s an 80-20 split with the federal government for funding, the cash-strapped authority will end up picking up 87 percent of the cost because the bulk of the money from Washington is in the form of loans.
Bradley Kesler, the T’s chief railroad officer, requested a $10 million authorization from the Fiscal & Management Control Board for the initial management phase of the Positive Train Control system, which is designed to prevent collisions and derailments as well as employ other safeguards.
Kesler detailed the cost and the funding breakdown, showing that the MBTA would be responsible for $93 million while the federal government would provide $366 million. But, according to Kesler’s data, just 13 percent – about $60 million – would be in the form of grants with the remaining $305 million coming in two loans.
Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA acting general manager, conceded after the board meeting that the two loans would be paid back by the T through bonding, meaning nearly $400 million will have to be borne by the authority and its riders.
The cost will not derail the system because it is mandated by the Rail Safety Improvement Act passed by Congress. The statute requires transit systems to implement the positive train control by the end of 2018, though Kesler says the T is petitioning for an extension to that to have full implementation by the end of 2020. If the agency doesn’t meet the deadlines, it could be fined as much as $105,000 a day for every day it is not operational past the deadline.
There was little discussion among the board about the cost and only board member Steven Poftak asked Kesler for clarification that the bulk of the federal money was in the way of loans.
But, unrelated, the board heard other plans to close the money gap for the deficit-ridden agency. The board approved a contract to install solar panel at 28 open parking lots and on the roofs of 9 parking garages. The 20-year contract would net the agency more than $51 million over the life of the agreement as well as save some operational costs related to maintaining parts of the parking facilities.
T officials also detailed the progress of the plan to reduce the administration and operations workforce by 300 employees. According to Jessica Stcyr, chief administrative officer for the Department of Transportation, 264 employees left through voluntary retirements and buyouts, of which 156 position will not be filled for a net annual savings of $13.3 million in wages but not including benefits. She said officials are eyeing a further reduction of 144 employees through various means, including “involuntary separations.” The total saving is expected to be $38 million in salaries and benefits.Shortsleeve said because the T is facing a $100 million deficit, nothing is being dismissed, including layoffs.
“We’re very focused on reducing our corporate head count,” he said. “Everything’s on the table.”